(06/12/17) BATON ROUGE, La. — Bright, shiny, iridescent minnows and other similar-size fishes popular with aquarium owners are finding their way to research laboratories to help fish farmers improve their production and discourage enthusiasts from capturing them in the wild and causing problems to the environment.
Researchers at the LSU AgCenter, the University of Florida and Virginia Tech are evaluating how to improve the production of native aquarium fishes under a two-year, $150,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant through the Southern Region Aquaculture Center.
The projects were selected by industry panels and advisory committees, said AgCenter researcher Chris Green. “We’re operating on input from the stakeholders,” he said.
The production of ornamental fishes on nearly 300 U.S. farms was worth $41.5 million in 2013, according to the UDSA Census of Aquaculture.
Fish farms in the South are mostly in Florida for the aquarium fish trade. “In our neck of the woods, farms in Louisiana and Arkansas produce mostly koi and goldfish for aquariums and ornamental ponds,” Green said.
“Our focus is on native ornamentals,” he said. “While the ornamental trade is primarily with tropicals, there is a market for native fish, too.”
Green’s work is with golden topminnows, which were selected from a list of “pilot” species identified by farmers.
“We’re looking at other candidate species and coming up with propagation and management methods in collaboration with Florida and Virginia Tech,” Green said.
Green is researching production methods that can be used by farmers to raise native fish in controlled ponds and recirculation systems rather than catching them in the wild.
“We want to avoid the consequences of people tramping through the woods and causing environmental problems,” he said.
In his work with golden topminnows, Green is adapting information the AgCenter has developed for commercially producing cocahoe minnows, which are widely used for fishing bait.
“We want to learn how to get them to spawn in captivity with reliable numbers, then grow the babies,” he said of the goldentops. Because they’re in the same genus as cocahoe minnows, he expects the efforts to be successful.
AgCenter researchers have already developed a process for spawning cocahoe minnows in ponds using Spawntex, a substrate of coconut fiber covered with latex. Green is using that approach to adapt the process for raising golden topminnows in ponds. One difference is that cocahoe minnows live in brackish water while golden topminnows are a freshwater species.
The natural range of golden topminnows is throughout Louisiana, up into Arkansas and the Missouri bootheel and along the Gulf Coast, throughout Florida and up the Atlantic Coast to Virginia.
“We hope to take what we learn from this project and transfer it to restore and protect other fish in peril in the wild,” Green said. “We want to be able to propagate rarer fish so people won’t try to collect them in the wild.”
Golden topminnows are already in the aquarium trade, but most are collected in rivers and streams.
“Our goal is to develop raising these fish for the aquarium trade and to provide a process for maintaining other imperiled species,” he said.
LSU AgCenter researcher Chris Green examines golden topminnows in a beaker at the LSU AgCenter Aquaculture Research Station, where he is investigating ways to help farmers raise the minnows in ponds for the aquarium trade. Photo by Rick Bogren/LSU AgCenter
LSU AgCenter researcher Chris Green holds immature golden topminnows, with which he is working to develop a method for raising the fish in farm ponds for the aquarium trade. Photo by Rick Bogren/LSU AgCenter
LSU AgCenter researcher Chris Green holds a mature golden topminnow, which he is rearing in an outdoor pond in order to develop a method for raising the fish for the aquarium trade. Photo by Rick Bogren/LSU AgCenter